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Dear Sir: You No Longer Exist
Written July 6, 2002

The bad news came in the Saturday morning mail.  My father received a notice that more than a thousand dollars, representing two Social Security checks he had received that spring, had been deducted from his checking account and returned to the Social Security Administration.  The reason?  He was dead.

The notice was a form 1510-0043 which had been sent from the Treasury Department to the Richwood Banking Company on July 28, 1982.  It stated, "The Government has become aware of a situation of death or legal incapacity pertaining to the following Federal recurring payment(s) for which your organization is accountable."  Listed were two direct deposits of $500.10, dated May 3 and June 3, 1982, made to the bank account of Vernon M. Thomas and labeled with his Social Security number.

There are advantages to being able to receive mail on a Saturday, but one big disadvantage is that you can't ask questions until Monday.  My frustrated father had to fume about this for the whole weekend.  Since my mother had died unexpectedly three months before, he was a widower, alone in his large house, now a thousand dollars poorer and officially dead himself.

On Monday morning, he drove to the nearby city of Marion to inquire at the local Social Security office.  The clerks there had no idea what was going on.

On Tuesday, August 3, he checked with his bank and learned that his August direct deposit from Social Security had arrived as scheduled, just like the July payment.  But the earlier May and June payments had been recalled.

Having been three days in the dark, he wrote to the Treasury Department office that had issued the recall order.

Department of the Treasury
Division of Disbursement
P.O. Box 2451
Birmingham, Alabama 35201

Please, please, please tell me in more detail what this enclosed form, received by me Saturday 31 July 1982, is all about.

I assure you I am neither dead nor do I suffer "legal incapacity."

The closing sentence states, "Any questions you may have about this matter should be directed to the agency which authorized the payment, Social Security."  Here I have met one of the famous stonewalls of government.  The Social Security office in Marion, Ohio, 125 Executive Drive 43302, were unable to explain what caused me to be served with such a notice.

First:  "Date of Event" 4/01/82 — What supposedly happened that day?

Second:  What triggered the paper work that resulted in the Richwood Banking Company charging my checking account with over one thousand dollars?

Third:  Why was not "the agency which authorized the payment" (Social Security) informed, so as to answer questions as suggested in your correspondence?

Fourth:  Why were the payments to me of Social Security benefits for the months of May and June recalled, but payments for July and August permitted?

Your early reply will be appreciated, as I am getting very tired sitting here and not being able to find out who reported me.

A very nervous and outraged taxpayer,
Vernon M. Thomas

My father listed his address, phone number, social security number, and bank account number, then added four more question marks and this postscript:

Please — please — please — restore me back to life so I can continue to pay my taxes.

Despite his pleas, a reply didn't arrive for more than two weeks.  The office in Birmingham must have had a backlog of such letters from dead folks.  When the director did reply, he admitted that he didn't know what was going on either.

In reponse to your letter dated August 3, 1982, this is to advise that the form you received from the Richmond [sic] Banking Co. was initiated in our office upon a request received from the Social Security Administration.

We issue payments for Social Security beneficiaries using payment information received from the agency; however, we do not maintain the payee files.  We have no way of knowing what has been received by the Social Security Administration that would have caused them to think you were deceased.

Since we do not have access to your records, we are not in a position to answer the questions you have asked in your letter.  Therefore, we are sending your correspondence to the local Social Security Administration to permit them to expedite corrective action on this case.

Very truly yours,
R. Mobbs
Director, Disbursing Center

There's no further correspondence in this file.  Social Security eventually discovered their error and restored the funds.  The likely cause of the error:  my mother, Vernon's wife Ann Thomas, did die on April 24, 1982 (though not on April 1), and somebody instead marked Vernon as deceased.  It did not help the widower's state of mind to be informed, fourteen weeks later, that he too was dead.


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